Review – Rhetoric – Go to Hell Duke Vol. 1 Friday, Feb 19 2010 


Damn, he’s the man. I don’t think I’ve seen too many rappers with the work ethic of newcomer Rhetoric. Without a penny to his name, this Chapel Hill hip-hoppster is looking to found an empire. He refers to his future kingdom as Heel Hop, and Go to Hell Duke Vol. 1 is the first rebel yell of this new movement. This mixtape has confident boastfulness sharing a tracklist with almost self-deprecating honesty, songs about hoes only a few spaces above freestyles about summer days and girlfriends. It sounds like a mess, and it kind of is, but it strangely works, at least most of the time.

Let’s get down to the meat of it. Where Rhetoric shines here is where he seems the least aware of it. Sure, there’s decent rhymes and storytelling in tracks like “Greatness,” and lifting beats from popular songs is typical mixtape fanfare, which is why it makes sense for “Tarheel Wow” and “You’re a Jerk (hoemix)” to be here, but all that stuff seems too deliberate. Rhetoric seems to accidentally stumble upon the best parts of the mixtape. The “Wingman For Life Freestyle” doesn’t seem like something most aspiring hip-hop kings would put out, and when was the last time you heard a rapper references farts, getting head in the drive-thru, and The Church of Latter Day Saints all in one track like Rhetoric does in “Let’s Spar?” Moments like these mix Rhetoric’s natural rhyming ability with the type of originality and freshness that could keep people coming back for more. It’s clear he’s just getting a footing on his swag, but when he steps onto the right things, it’s awesome. But of course, he doesn’t always, so we get tracks like “Hear Us Out” and “The Origin of Morgan,” which come out feeling superfluous and undercooked.

When Rhetoric doesn’t waste words or moments, the results can be thrilling. It’s hard not to believe him when he tells us he’s the man on the mixtape’s opening track, because he never lets up on his assault on the beat. The same goes for “Triumph.” When the beats are big, Rhetoric is bigger. When the music is more sparse, Rhetoric gets more light-hearted, like on the aforementioned “Let’s Spar.” It’s a musical sensibility that is noticed, if only subtly. He seems to know the rules of the game. Now, all he’s got to do is find the best ways to throw them out the window.

Go to Hell Duke Vol. 1 is Rhetoric. There isn’t anyone in the game quite like him. This scatter-brained, confident, silly, completely and totally genuine debut sets Rhetoric apart from a lot of the other hip-hop you’ll hear this year. From rapping about farts and being a good ass wingman, to urging his future dominance of the game, every word that comes out of Rhetoric’s mouth is infectiously natural. There are still steps to be taken, but Vol. 1 is a strong first step. Yeah, the “white rapper” thing may cause some people to either completely ignore Rhetoric, or to listen to him expecting Eminem or Asher Roth, and then completely ignore him afterward. So let’s get this out of the way: Rhetoric is not anyone’s copycat, nor is he a novelty. Rhetoric is Rhetoric. And Rhetoric’s legit.

Oh, and “Heel Hop” is the best fucking track on the mixtape.

Overall score: 7.1/10


A Decade in Decomposition Monday, Feb 1 2010 

So, I promised myself I wouldn’t try to list my top albums of 2000-2009 for a few reasons. I simply don’t feel as if I’ve consumed enough music to be able to put together a decent list. My tastes are still dominated by Western pop music and any list I put together will leave out most genres that aren’t well represented here in the United States. Still, for some reason, I was moved today to make an attempt at doing a list of albums that are not necessarily the best music released this decade, but of records that I truly loved and that I believe are some of the best albums released. Having said that, this list isn’t composed of all my favorites, as there were a few albums I adore, but I simply don’t believe that they are good enough to be called one of the best of the decade (namely, albums by Brand New, The Matches, Bright Eyes, and Say Anything). Either way, I feel as if that’s enough of a preface. So, um, here’s the list that no one cares about.

Dion Beary’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000-2009

20. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
John Darnielle is the kind of artist who made it on earnest skill alone. Unlike most musicians, he’s never had to create a character for himself in order to attract attention; his music speaks volumes on its own. Before The Sunset Tree, it was hard to actually tell how much of Darnielle’s songwriting was autobiographical. This album, which he ironically dedicated to his abusive father, takes us into Darnielle’s past with such striking honesty, it is hard to not be moved. At no point during the album does he use emotionally heavy language to try and force a reaction from his listener. No, he just tells his story the only way he knows how, with incredibly detailed lyricism, rich with beautiful imagery and emotional depth.

19. DJ Danger Mouse – The Grey Album
It’s hard to make Jay-Z sound better than he already is. He’s the kind of rapper whose voice alone insists upon itself. How audacious, in that sense, is DJ Danger Mouse’s decision to remix Jay-Z’s vocals from The Black Album with music from The Beatles’ self-titled White Album? For a band that insists to their last days that they were nothing more than a regular pop band to be mixed with an artist who refers to himself non-ironically as Jayhova sounds like a stretch, at best. This is where Danger Mouse’s genius comes in, because somehow, both artists are given a new, unique light in this landmark album. I hesitate to refer to it’s twisting melodies as a “mashup,” because that takes away from how drastically original the album sounds. It doesn’t sound like Jay-Z vocals over Beatles samples; it sounds like wholly new arrangements lifting lyrics from Jay’s best album to a level they’d never found before, and never have since.

18. The White Stripes – Elephant
Of all the garage-rock revivalists, The White Stripes have always had one thing that sets them apart; they don’t have a bass player. Yeah, there’s all that shit about their them only wearing red, white, and black, and there’s the former mystery about the relationship between guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White, but that was never what really made the band musically interesting. Bass is the foundation of music, and The White Stripes don’t have one, which is what makes Elephant such a musical triumph. This little duo makes themselves sound like an army. The sound is thick, powerful, and pounding. While it’s not quite as gripping as the originality found on White Blood Cells, this record easily earns recognition as a testament the growing musical genius of Jack White.

17. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
The lyrics, the arrangements, the psychedelics, the percussion; Sam Beam may just be the most prolific “folk” musician of all time, and The Shepherd’s Dog is his most intense record. He tends to avoid adding too much obtuseness to his lyrics, making me them deceptively simple, while placing the weight of the imagery solely in his music. The guitar playing is great, but it’s the “other” things going on that make the record truly great; the ambiguous noise paints abstract mental pictures for the listener. In that sense, it is a wholly unifying record, whose musical interpretations will vary from listener to listener, but most will agree on one thing; the album is absolutely beautiful.

16. Brian Wilson – Smile
The story of Smile is, perhaps, the most intriguing musical tale of all time. Originally conceived in the sixties by prototypical insane genius Brian Wilson, creating this “teenage symphony to God” became too much for Wilson’s psyche, and he soon found himself in the midst of a mental breakdown that echoed for years, causing his withdrawal from the Beach Boys. Forty years later, Wilson once again attempted to complete the album. This time, he finished. The result was something more beautiful than anyone could have ever imagined. The melodies ascend, the chord progressions seem all-at-once extremely foreign and obvious, the instrumentation is varied and dense. This album turned out to be everything Brian Wilson and the rest of the world envisioned. It is quite possibly the greatest collection of pop songs to ever be assembled.

15. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
From the opening guitar squeals of “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground,” White Blood Cells is a nonstop thrill of an album. There is no subtlety here, no methodical approach. Jack White never lets up on the volume knob, but this album isn’t just loud. It is intense and heavy. This album is different from any other Jack White album because it has no purpose but to be itself, to be an incredible rock and roll album. It’s feels as natural as breathing. With that in mind, I make the claim that White Blood Cells is the greatest pure rock album of the decade.

14. Jonny Greenwood – Bodysong
Jonny Greenwood comes from a little band called Radiohead. Aside from lead singer Thom Yorke, it is Greenwood’s influences that direct Radiohead albums. In this decade, both Yorke and Greenwood released solo albums, but whereas Yorke’s record often felt scatterbrained and unfocused, Bodysong is a wonderfully cohesive piece of work. This post-rock gem recalls the krautrock influences that first drove Radiohead into the land of Kid A, which spoke to society as a whole (more on that later). But here, Greenwood explores something much more physical: the human body. Most of the record lacks any real guitar work, but it consciously aims to maintain a guitar aesthetic, making the record fascinatingly experimental. It’s one of those albums where the songs simply can’t exist on their own. It’s abstractly beautiful, oddly discomforting, yet wholly satisfying.

13. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Girl Talk is extremely fitting in lists like this, as his songs are mostly collections of every interesting nugget of pop music he can find. There’s not really much to be said about Girl Talk except that his mashups are extremely refreshing. It’s so carefree to listen to music without an ounce of pretense. Each song is tons of tiny happy musical moments thrown into a blender, producing a sugary sweet concoction that is as hyperactive as it is exciting.

12. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
This album is why I simply can’t accept anything Eminem has released in the last few years. With this record, Eminem became the biggest artist in the world, thrust there by his amazing sense of characterization. Whether rapping as Eminem, Marshall Mathers, or the insane Slim Shady, the lyrical depth of this record cannot be denied. Eminem’s flow is carefree and natural and his subject matter has never been more varied as it was on MMLP.

11. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
The simplicity of the music can be forgiven. mewithoutYou is a band that is driven solely by one man: Aaron Weiss. It is in his lyrics that mewithoutYou find their main strength. Delivered through Weiss’ desperate screams, the words weaved into this album jump between praise, worship, and questioning of God. In that vein, it is amazing to see an artist right strictly about God without having to be divisive. I’ve never really been one to believe music is a great venue for ministry, but Weiss turns his musings to God into personal narratives, which may mean more to him than any of his listeners, but I’m still thankful for the opportunity to hear them.

10. Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III
I hated Lil’ Wayne for a long time. I didn’t get it. Unlike most people who hate Lil’ Wayne though, I decided to give him a chance. I downloaded Tha Carter III and listened to “A Milli” first. Afterward, I said to myself, “Wow, this really is the most terrible thing I’ve ever listened to. How could anyone like this? It’s so bad, I want to hear it again.” and I spent the next three hours listening to the record non-stop. Lil’ Wayne’s appeal lies in his swagger, which permeates into his rap. His punchlines are constantly assaulting, and he only slows down to parody big ass sell-out hits (I find it funny that so few people know that “Lollipop” is an intentionally over-the-top, oversexed radio anthem).

9. Paul Baribeau – Grand Ledge
One man and one acoustic guitar. That’s all Paul Baribeau has, plus a keen sense of melody and heart-wrenchingly honest lyrics. What separates Paul Baribeau from other overly melancholic acoustic acts is that he’s eternally optimistic. There’s something so genuine about an artist who can sadly reminisce about past relationships while still able to acknowledge the beauty in things as simple as clouds. This is an album that has helped me get through a lot of things; it’s so genius in it’s relatability. Lyrics like “And even though I’m home now, I feel completely homeless” perfectly sum up those little moments in our lives that we never want to forget, no matter how good or how bad they are. For an artist who seems so anti-pop, Baribeau captures so much of what pop music should be.

8. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill
It’s not just lo-fi. It’s not just melancholy. It’s not just a suicide record. From a Basement on a Hill is the perfect Elliott Smith albums because it captures every aspect of his music on one disc. There’s the sad finger-plucked guitar loner Elliott Smith, the chamber-indie genius Elliott Smith, and the pop aesthetic struggling against the rock instrumentation Elliott Smith. Although the album is technically unfinished, it feels more complete and cohesive than almost any other album I’ve ever heard. It’s a testament to Elliott’s vision as an artist. Perhaps the record is summed up best with it’s climax track “King’s Crossing,” in which Elliott Smith delivers what many consider to be his suicide note over a sprawling, noisy musical landscape. It’s a beautiful song, the best of a beautiful record.

7. Weatherbox – American Art
Maybe there are albums out there a lot better than American Art, but I know that every time I think of this decade during my life, I will remember this album and this band. The sharp, double guitar attack of the album is somehow overshadowed by Brian Warren’s sprawling lyrics. He touches on everything; God, drugs, the origin of man, Native American Boxism, hip-hop, and everything else. Still, the record remains deeply personal, reflecting Warren’s inner-thoughts at the height of their absolute insanity. What’s best is Warren is absolutely unforgiving about everything he says, barely feeling the need to conceal it in metaphor. He was ballsy here, although out of his mind.

6. Kanye West – Late Registration
Next time you get pissed about Kanye West saying something cocky, remember Late Registration; he’s earned the right to say anything he wants. Before this record, “arrangements” weren’t a word you often heard in hip-hop. The music here is more than just beats, they’re compositions. The absolute grandiosity of “We Major” will always as one of the brightest moments in music history, no matter how many Grammy’s and VMA’s Taylor Swift wins. Kanye West’s lyrics are deeply personal, representing a shift in hip-hop that many have since followed, but it truly is the music that dominates this record. Kanye really is hip-hop’s first (and currently only) true singer-songwriter, willing to experiment without fear, with a self-confidence that everyone loves to hate. But no amount of hate will change that Kanye is the most important solo artist making music today. Period. No questions.

5. Cloud Cult – The Meaning of 8
Out of all the deeply personal records on this list, none are quite as touching as The Meaning of 8. Lead singer and songwriter Craig Minowa lost his infant son six years before this record was created, in celebration of what would’ve been his son’s eighth birthday. Going through something that would’ve destroyed so many people, Minowa instead used it to create music dedicated to his son. Before this record, however, a lot of it was cute, but here, we’re presented with what is the real heartbreak Minowa suffers through everyday. On “Your 8th Birthday,” Minowa screams the name of his dead son over and over again during the chorus. On “Dance for the Dead,” he says he’ll miss his son everyday, and through that, he will live on. The music is strikingly original and affected. Strummed acoustic guitars, buzzed electronics, and unidentifiable noises make the album’s music as deeply rooted in Minowa’s mind as the memory of his son. This is the only album that has ever made me cry. On top of that, it was the first indie-rock record I ever listened to, beginning a musical journey that lead me to become the annoying music snob you see before you today. Exciting, eh?

4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Through almost-too-bright guitars playing post-pop chord progressions, through on-again off-again three part harmonies providing the canvas for seemingly random melodies, through touchingly tender acoustic numbers side by side with indie’d out modern R&B numbers, through lead lines that either express guitar virtuosity or a complete lack of playing ability, Dirty Projectors crafted an album that pleases everything I’ve secretly lusted for as a music fan. Remember when we were younger? We listened to anything and everything, and we danced to it, because we loved music. Before we knew the internet, the blogs, the Pitchfork, the AbsolutePunk, the genres, the cred, we knew unabashed love for sound. This album appeals to that part of our psyche without condescension. Its lyrics are infantile and immature, its music rebels against the rules of both the pop and indie rock worlds. Finally, we have an album that teaches us how to be young again, but does it in a way that we can understand: guitar, drum, bass, laptop, voice. When it comes down to it, that’s all it is. Yet, it’s brilliant.

3. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Sufjan Stevens is like a musical version of a novelist. He tells the stories of others and creates soundtracks for them, always careful to separate himself from the music as far as possible. He tells the stories of America. How odd that a man named Sufjan is probably the most essentially American artist since Bruce Springsteen. He sings about American issues with American references, often times using American modes of expression. The musical arrangements on Illinois are dizzying at times, recalling classical composition, indie-rock, folk, Americana, country, gospel, and everything in between. All of this serves to highlight Sufjan’s comparatively sparse vocals, which are soft and flat, but are elevated by his arrangements. It all works together to create a record that is as pleasing as it is long, never coming across a boring moment. It’s a testament to everything self-indulgent, but awesome.

2. Kanye West – The College Dropout
With his production work on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Kanye West revolutionized the way hip-hop sounded. The samples were soulful, rich, and just as much a part of the songs as Jay-Z’s rhymes. On The College Dropout, he revolutionized everything else about it. Kanye didn’t walk around in jerseys and oversized clothes; he dressed fashionably. He didn’t rap about guns and gold, but about Jesus, poverty, and family, creating an album more universal than any hip-hop record before it. But all of these aspects on their own aren’t what make The College Dropout the greatest hip-hop album of the decade (and of all time). It’s hard to put into words, so I’ll just what I feel; this album is perfect. There is no weak moment, there is no wasted breath, and even the skits serve to tie the album off with it’s anti-college theme. No other artist can give testament to having such an original debut album, to finding their individual musical voice so quickly. Keep in mind, this was before any of the antics, before the blog rants, before the stage crashes. This is who Kanye is: an artist, maybe the best one ever.

1. Radiohead – Kid A
No Surprises here (lol OK Computer joke). In the same way Kanye West broke through hip-hop’s slump, Radiohead broke through rock’s. From it’s opening lines of gibberish, to it’s leanings towards techno, Kid A is the kind of album rock needed to break to levy, to make it known to the industry that there were still a ton of things left to be done. The album is incredible challenging and it took me months to really get into, but the pay off is so rewarding. Rarely has a record seemed so simultaneously alien and so familiar, so warming and so disturbing. Everything I think about music in one way or another can be traced back to this record.

-Dion (I know there are a shit ton of typos. I’ll fix them whenever.)

Review – Bob Dylan – Together Through Life Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

One of the things I enjoy least about Bright Eyes are the Conor Oberst devotees who say things that don’t make any sense, calling him “the voice of a generation” and “the next Bob Dylan.” I could write a doctoral dissertation on how both these assertions are wrong, but instead I will spare Oberst (who I enjoy) and argue that we don’t even need a new Dylan, because the one we have still works just fine, thank you.

It's alright, Ma, it's only aging

On April 28, 2009, Dylan released Together Through Life, a collection of 10 bluesy songs cowritten with The Grateful Dead’s Rob Hunter. The album is sonically a trip down memory lane; the songs drift breezily through 1950’s blues and rock ‘n’ roll, all framed by David Hidalgo’s romantic accordion playing. “Romantic” is kind of a cop-out adjective, but it’s the perfect word not just for the accordion but for the album itself: it is decidedly lighter, both musically and lyrically, than 2006’s Modern Times, and it only further proves that Bob Dylan can still fulfill the role of Bob Dylan like only Bob Dylan could. He foregoes the meditations that have peppered his last three studio albums, instead opting for a more lively, carefree approach both to living and songwriting. The lyrics are a far cry from the surrealism that characterized the best of Dylan’s past work, and are even further removed from his iconic “finger-pointing” songs. Dylan seems to have embraced not only the political world in which he lives, but also the fact that it isn’t the politics that are important. In “It’s All Good,” he smokily croons, “Big politician telling lies/Restaurant kitchen, all full of flies/Don’t make a bit of difference, don’t see why it should,” a sentiment that back in the day would have made Greenwich Village folksters even angrier than electric guitars.

It is this sentiment that makes this album so excellent, and why it has landed itself a spot on my list of the top ten albums of 2009. Instead of speaking for anyone, Dylan once again speaks for himself. He revels in the fact that he is still alive but is sneakily mournful, never once forgetting that he’s old and getting older. If anyone else had written “I’m lost in the crowd/all my tears are gone,” it wouldn’t be as significant as it is coming from an old man whose last decade was characterized by the duende of having to accept mortality. He’s done with being sorrowful; this album is a testament to that. He finishes the stanza: “All I have and all I know/Is this dream of you/Which keeps me living on,” which is exactly what we all need to hear. Here is a man whose well of sadness has dried up, someone who no longer is king of the world and who no longer has the ability to galvanize throngs of adoring fans, bitter former fans, and bemused music journalists. Even though he’s lived a long, exhausting, difficult life, Dylan’s still got his priorities straight. This is an album about love, an album by a man who clearly understands all of our most intimate issues, problems, gripes, and pains, and who still says, “it’s all good” when you have love. Is the album perfect? No. But if it were, it wouldn’t be as charmingly Bob, as devilishly Dylan, as it is.

Score: 7/10


Review – Say Anything – Say Anything Saturday, Nov 14 2009 

Say Anything

Their music is now just as indistinguishable as they are.

I just finished a top-to-bottom meal of Say Anything’s new self-titled album. I know what I think about it. Problem is, I don’t know what would be the best way to express my opinion on the album. As any semi-regular reader will know, I have three speeds: sarcastic, self-important, and overly-emotional (sometimes all three at once). I’m having trouble deciding exactly which speed would be best to describe this album. You know, I think I’m going to give all three of my alternate personalities a chance to shine.

Sarcastic Dion: Jesus Christ, what happened to Max Bemis? I could blame it on his falling in love, but love doesn’t automatically mean one’s songs have to suck (i.e. Bob Dylan), so let’s not blame Sherri DuPree; this record is all Max’s fault. Every track screams of an artist who needs to stop listening to his own albums while masturbating in the mirror. Say Anything sounds like little more than a Say Anything cover band formed by scene kids who, apparently, don’t like Kanye West or Kings of Leon very much. The nerve of said scene kids to bash any other artists while performing lyrically miserable, wanna-be electronica (“Crush’d,” “Do Better”) or songs so desperately begging to be teen angst anthems, it’s almost embarrassing to watch them fail (“Hate Everyone,” “Mara & Me”), is, perhaps, the greatest understated irony of this tragedy of an album.

Self-important Dion: Seeing Say Anything sellout so dramatically drains a little bit more water out of my “Faith In The Music Industry” pool, leaving it nearly as shallow as this record. Make no mistake about it; these songs were made to ooze pop-appeal and garner record sales. Occasionally, the record stumbles upon a catchy chorus (“Property,” “Eloise”), but with no substance to speak of, these are the kinds of songs you hate to have stuck in your head. Then again, substance is not something that matters when it comes to record sales, and Say Anything continue to demonstrate that they will do anything to make it big. Whether it’s dumbing down their music, cutting their hair, or going online and begging fans not to download the record if it leaks (true story), it seems Bemis and Crew have sold themselves completely to their label and the almighty dollar. *Sigh* Capitalism ruins another great artist…

Overly-emotional Dion: And it’s sad to see them go. Say Anything were, for me, the rebel yell of my teenage years. When I heard “Admit It!!!” from …Is a Real Boy, I wanted to go out and yell in the face of everyone who would dare deny that my views, my opinions, my character was valid. Max Bemis’ songs meant something to me. Say Anything meant everything to me. It’s painful to see that the band no longer seems to care about the music that once defined so many of their fans. The grit is gone. The hunger is gone. Say Anything is dead.

Normal Dion: This record is bad.

Overall score: 1.7/10

Review – Pete Doherty – Grace/Wastelands Monday, Aug 3 2009 

I’m going to come clean now: I’m a Libertines fanboy. I love everything by the Libertines, and I’m a huge fan of Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things as well. That makes my job as a reviewer harder, though I promise to give Peter Doherty’s solo album, Grace/Wastelands, as fair and unbiased a treatment as possible. It would be unfair to the music to do otherwise.

That said, this is a far cry from most anything Doherty’s done before. Gone is the sloppy, rugged overindulgence that characterized the man before; Grace/Wastelands is a more subdued, controlled album, eschewing debauchery for a more stripped-down intensity. This is, musically, Doherty’s finest hour; he sings better than he has before, and the songs themselves all fit together nicely on the whole (something that has yet to happen on a Babyshambles album). The wistful, reflective lyrics are a product of growing up, no doubt, but still contain visceral moments of youthful fury—”New Love Grows On Trees” was demoed as a Libertines song, and in the demo when Pete sings “If you’re still alive when you’re 25, should I kill you like you asked me to?” you can hear Carl reply “I never ask you that!” These snippets of past bitterness combine excellently with the mournful nostalgia and regret and give a more complete, nuanced, and intelligent picture of Doherty than any of his work has done before. Try as I might to keep away from the comparisons, I can’t. It’s hard to imagine that the man who wrote the plaintive “Death On The Stairs” is now writing solemn laments about love lost and singing them coherently. Thankfully, Doherty delivers.

This album isn’t just about Doherty, though; those of you who aren’t fan boys will still find something here to enjoy. The music itself is quite good; Blur’s Graham Coxon contributes guitar to almost every song, most notably to the bluesy “Palace of Bone,” where his atmospheric soloing contrasts elegantly with Doherty’s acoustic guitar and somber singing. When I first heard this album, I feared it would basically be a British Jack Johnson. Thankfully, I was wrong. The music here is more inspired and interesting than your standard sensitive-guy drivel. Coxon’s guitars are, as always, a pleasure, and the fact that Doherty’s band Babyshambles made instrumental contributions to this album is not only a pleasant thought (because Babyshambles is awesome to us fan boys) but also a surprising one, given the stark contrast between this album and anything by Babyshambles.

Will this album appeal to a non-fanboy? The answer is yes; in fact, this more so than any of Doherty’s other work will appeal to someone wary of the man based on his public image. Us fanboys, however, will eat it up all the more voraciously. The album is not long and it is not vicious or edgy, at least not overtly so. That subtlety makes it clear Doherty has matured and is what makes this so intriguing a listen for anyone who is a fan of this kind of singer/songwriter music; however, Doherty’s maturity isn’t all good. The jazzy “Sweet By and By” stumbles more than swings as Doherty tries and fails to create the nightclub mystique, and “1939 Returning” is only excusable after a quick Google search reveals it was intended as a duet with Amy Winehouse. That isn’t to say, however, that this album is by any means bad. It is enjoyable and shows a new, clean(er) Pete(r) Doherty who is ready to move into the next stages of his life without the debauched revelry of his past.

Highlights include the aforementioned “New Love Grows On Trees,” Doherty’s Peter Wolfe-co-written “Broken Love Song,” a wonderful Oscar Wilde tribute, and “Sheepskin Tearaway,” a duet with Scottish singer-songwriter Dot Allison.

Release Date: March 24th, 2009

Overall rating: 8.0/10

Review – Four Year Strong – Explains It All Sunday, Jul 26 2009 

As a musician, I know the power held within playing cover songs. I play them to pay homage to the artists who have inspired me, as well as to show fans what kinds of bands I want to associate myself with. Although the Punk Goes… series has tarnished the point of cover songs a little, I still enjoy listening to them just as much as I love playing them. With that in mind, I checked out Four Year Strong’s new album Explains It All, which is composed entirely of covers.

First of all, I do not expected Four Year Strong to be able to replicate the original versions of these songs. The success of this record relies solely on how well Four Year Strong is able to translate the songs into their sugar sweet pop-punk sound. Wisely, this album takes very few risks in its choice of songs, with Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” being the only out-of-place song (which, unsurprisingly, does not work when converted into a pop-punk song). “So Much For the Afterglow” and “She’s So High” provide the two peaks of the record, forming a V whose low point is, easily, a messy cover of No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs”. Aside from that, Explains It All will be an interesting listen for anyone who is a fan of Four Year Strong and will, hopefully, encourage them to seek out the works of the bands covered here, such as Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Third Eye Blind.

Released: July 21st, 2009
Overall rating: 6.0/10

Review – Set Your Goals – This Will Be the Death of Us Thursday, Jul 23 2009 

Set Your Goals lives in a very interesting area of the scene. They are big but they are not quite one of the flagship bands yet. 2009 seems to be the best year for a band to put themselves out and try to gain a spot at the forefront of pop-punk. All Time Low have already done it with their new album Nothing Personal (quality aside, All Time Low are, undoubtedly one of the biggest bands in the scene right now). With almost all of the major pop-punk bands releasing albums this year, where does Set Your Goals’ new album, This Will Be the Death of Us, measure up?

First of all, undying fans of pop-punk will probably love this album. Set Your Goals have the interesting ability to mix the softer and harder sides of the genre into one package without a noticeable inconsistency. The bright guitar chords of “Look Closer” combine with the textbook Warped Tour vocals from Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown create a sort of sound that would have made a nice b-side from Blink-182’s last album. On the slightly heavier side of things, the album’s title track features an urgent punk march, a sort of mosh song for kids who don’t really like to mosh. Although it is slightly refreshing to hear the heavier sides, Set Your Goals just doesn’t have the aesthetic to pull off the sound, probably due to the overly-poppy vocals. A nice balance is found on “Equals”, which somehow works, despite the weak ass screams in the bridge.

Despite these bright moments, an album like this needs risks to flourish and Set Your Goals takes way too few. “Like You To Me” sounds like it could have been written by any old punk band off the street. The ridiculously lame Hayley Williams guest spot on “The Few That Remain” drags an already cliche song to the depths of pop-punk hell. Hayley Williams simply does not have the vocal ability to drift away from the uber-pop outfit she normally wears (not to say Set Your Goals can’t get poppy, but they are nowhere near the level of Paramore). “Gaia Bleeds (Make Way for Man)” is practically a crunkcore song and the Chad Gilbert spot on “Out Ethos: A Legacy to Pass On” comes off just as flat as most New Found Glory songs. One risk that does pay off is the instrumental track, “Arrival Notes” featuring gentle guitar picking and pseudo-ambient electric guitar tones. Perhaps on the next album, Set Your Goals can explore this sound further. However, we both know they won’t. They will continue writing the straight-up pop-punk they are known for now.

In the end, I suppose that is where I separate from Set Your Goals. This Will Be the Death of Us is more solid than a lot of pop-punk albums but it remains aimless in its approach, seeking to write songs for a live venue rather than an album. It comes off as a mere collection of songs, rather than a record. It’s what every band is doing nowadays anyway. If on the next record they can direct their sound and explore new avenues, Set Your Goals has the ability to craft a pretty cohesive record. That is not the purpose of Set Your Goals, however. In fact, I would venture to say, at this point, they have no purpose.

Released: July 21st, 2009
Overall score: 5.0/10

Review – Northbrook – Maybe Monday, Jul 20 2009 

Northbrook is a pop-punk band that refuses to accept the limitations. Hailing from College Park, Maryland, the project serves as an outlet for the writing of Ryan Mentzos. Although the band stretches beyond the typical sound coming from the genre, it does not assume too much about itself. On Maybe, the band’s debut disc, Northbrook delivers a smorgasbord of delicious pop-rock with several obvious influences. It surprises. It charms. It works where it seems like it shouldn’t. For those of you looking for a short, catchy snippet, here it is: This album is good.

As said above, Maybe wears its influences on its shoulders but, fortunately, without tip-toeing into the arena of imitation. Whether jumping from Jack’s Mannequin, piano-laden pop rock and Jimmy Eat World vocal patterns (“Au Revoir Ah Malhonnetete”) to adding spoken-word sections into what sounds like it could be a The Starting Line song (“The Leaving Song. Whatever. We Didn’t Feel Like Naming This One”), Northbrook captures a lot of what is good about pop-punk music. However, Maybe’s greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness. Songs like “How To Tame The Rare Stilleto Lioness” seem to add things to songs that are not needed. The song in questions throws in syrupy vocal sections and double-bass where they are just not necessary.

Mentzos’ vocals can leave a little be desired (“Forecast The Overcast”) but when he pushes them just as hard as he pushes his music (“Hollywood Isn’t Glamorous”) the serve as a near perfect accent to the album’s musical arrangements, which are, at times, well thought out (“It Ain’t Easy Bein’ A Cowboy (And You Ain’t No Clint Eastwood)”) and, at other times, not so much. Even those songs though are clearly made to excite a live audience (“Fine, If I Can’t Put My Tongue In Your Cheek, I’ll Put It In Mine”).

For a debut album, the record works. However, Northbrook will have to capture its own sound to survive. Maybe is easy to devour and digest and if you find yourself missing The Starting Line, Northbrook may just become your new favorite band. They have a good start and all the signs of a band read to expand to even more surprising musical heights.

Released: March 22nd, 2009
Overall Rating: 6.8/10

Review – The Dead Weather – Horehound Saturday, Jul 18 2009 

Jack White is one of the most ambitious, non-ambitious musicians the industry has ever encountered. By that, I mean to say that, although his music is, more often than not, stripped down to the bare essentials, he seems to seek to achieve several diverse goals with that sound. Since spear-heading the garage rock revival in the early 2000’s, Jack White has been bouncing from album-to-album, band-to-band trying to stretch gritty, bluesy, guitar rock further than it has ever been stretched before. His newest project is The Dead Weather and their debut album, Horehound (brought to you by Jack White’s own record label, Third Man), may be White’s best non-White Stripes release yet.

Horehound packs more punch into its minimal instrumentation than any triple-guitar, double-bass, guttural scream attack of any generic metalcore band out today. Anyone can play loud but it takes a group of great musicians to play with a full, developed sound. Jack White has assembled just that with Alison Mosshart (of the Kills), Dead Fertita (of Queens of the Stone Age), and Jack Lawrence (a fellow Raconteur) rounding out the near-supergroup lineup.

The varied membership lends to the sound as the album successfully avoids becoming repetitive, a flaw that swallows up many garage rock records. Of course, Jack White’s trademark deep guitar grooves are present throughout the album (“Rocking Horse”) however, the other band who are represented in this project let their influences shine through as well, often creating impressive results, like on “3 Birds” where White’s aforementioned guitar groves are mixed with psychedelic instrumentation that would be more at home on a Queens of the Stone Age album. “60 Feet Tall”, the album’s opener, puts a blues spin on The Kills’ sound. Then again, there are parts of the album that do not really sound much like any of the member’s main projects. “Hang You From The Heavens” was probably chosen as the album’s single for just that reason, with a sound somewhere between pseudo-sophisticated blues rock and indie rock.

At times, the influences do not mix quite as well. “Bone House”, for instance, seems too much like an overly-deliberate mixture of sounds, coming off as muddled as the two guitars play, what seem to be, too different riffs. “No Hassle Night”, although having a promising opening, quickly falls victim to an overused chord structure, a no-surprises melody, and an overall vibe of laziness. Still, what else is to be expected from garage rock? Every album in the genre has to have that one stinker (with the exception of 2001’s brilliant White Blood Cells from the White Stripes).

There is not really much more you can ask for from an album like this. It pushes the boundaries of its sound without breaking character and offers pleasing results the vast majority of the time. Although not a perfect record, Horehound will certainly please fans of the member’s primary bands, as well as win a following of its own.

Released: July 14th, 2009
Overall score: 7.1/10

Review – August Burns Red – Constellations Friday, Jul 17 2009 

When I was sixteen, my best friend booked a show for Tragic Hero Records, a NC record label responsible for such acts as Alesana (now on Fearless Records) and A Skylit Drive. At the time, I was new to rock music and ready to experience my very first show. When I asked my mom if I could go, she told me no. She said something about the devil using music to corrupt me away from God’s will. Needless to say, I was upset. In a fit of adolescent rage, I swore to never speak to her again (and I stuck to it until dinner time). Three years later, I find myself listening to Constellations, the new album from metalcore d00ds August Burns Red. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to my mother for ever doubting her and thank her for sparing me from this ridiculous genre of music at such a young age.

Constellations seems to be little more than a walking stereotype of everything that is over-the-top metalcore. Every song follows one of two patterns; it either begins small and then builds to laughable screams (more like groans) and double-bass (which is abused in nearly every song on this album). “Merianas Trench” and “Meridian” follow this first pattern. Other songs open right from the get-go with overcompensating guitars.

If you are looking to have a little fun, try this trick. If you have Constellations, open it up on your iTunes and play the following songs in rapid order, not allowing any more than the opening chord of each song to play: “Thirty and Seven”, “Ocean of Apathy”, “Paradox”. “Meridian”, “Rationalist”, “Meddler”, and “Crusades”. Over half of the album’s songs begin on the exact same chord in almost the exact same way (save for “Meridian” which strums the chord slightly softer).

Although, to me, this album is almost unbearable, I have to acknowledge that this genre is not one that sits well me. I enjoy experimentation and diversity in music, one area in which August Burns Red (and metalcore in general) are severely lacking. I am sure there are plenty of sixteen year olds out there who would love this album. For adults, however, the record does not sit well.

Released: July 14th, 2009

Overall rating: 2.2/10

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